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This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register. Visiting a wine region for the first time can be a daunting experience. For those of us who regularly visit wine regions, we forget how overwhelming it can be. For example, if you were heading to Napa for the first time, would you know the difference between Atlas Peak, Diamond Mountain District and Howell Mountain? Would you know if one area is better known for a grape variety than another? Would you know that the cabernet sauvignon from Atlas Peak has more cherry fruit and acidity than the cabernet sauvignon from Howell Mountain that has notes of blackberry and rich tannins? I have the privilege to travel to many wine regions. I regularly go to Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma, as well as some international areas, and over multiple visits have gotten to know these regions and what differentiates one designated AVA over another. I take for granted this knowledge and insight of Santa Barbara wine regions that I have, as I realized when I traveled there this past week with some friends. They had not spent significant time in Santa Barbara wine country, and it was an opportunity to delve into the diversity of the region. Being told about how the transverse mountain range affects the climates from Santa Maria to Happy Canyon is informative, but is difficult to truly comprehend without tasting. Of course, the ideal is to spend time in each AVA, tasting a few wines in each area in order to get a sense of place. But if time does not allow, there are two places that offer an opportunity to gain an understanding of the entire region in one place. The Valley Project
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, located in the Funk Zone in downtown San Barbara, is a wonderful wine bar/retail shop that features local and international wine selections that each tell a story. It is a popular place for a glass or two of wine and a plate of cheese or small bites from afternoon to night. But now you can start earlier in the day with brunch as Les Marchands offers brunch beginning at 10am on Saturday and Sunday. A friend and I met for brunch at Les Marchands on a Sunday morning. We sat on the patio and ordered glasses of bubbles. It was Sunday brunch. bubbles But we also ordered a flight of wine, which includes three two-ounce pours of white, red or progressive (sparkling, white and red). After all, Les Marchands is a wine bar. We selected the white flight and enjoyed tastes of Chateau de Chasseloir melon de bourgogne from the Loire Valley in France, Bruna pigato from Italy and Tyler chardonnay from Santa Barbara. Varying levels of acidity and minerality, these wines were lovely to sip along with our meal.
Most of the time that I am in downtown Santa Barbara, it is on a stop on the way up to wine country or on the way back home. I have spent afternoons wandering around the Funk Zone in downtown Santa Barbara. While tasting rooms are open during the day in that area, some of the restaurants only open at night. One of those is The Lark. And unfortunately, I have never been there late enough to stay for dinner. But on a recent overnight in Santa Barbara, it was finally my chance to eat at The Lark. The Lark opened in 2013 and has been a Santa Barbara favorite ever since. An urban eatery, it is warm and casual with the re-purposed dark wood materials. Serving locally sourced and responsibly grown seasonal ingredients culled from what is available on the Central Coast, the food is served family style - my favorite! As soon as we sat down, we were served the Lark Popcorn, made with red wine salt, duck fat, thyme, rosemary, black pepper and lemon zest. Savory with a hint of citrus, it is amazing how fast that basket gets emptied. The Lark Popcorn
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